Shocker of the year, people: PayPal has blocked the Kopimist Church of Idaho!
Ok. It’s not the jaw-dropping scoop of the century. With their (admitted) politically-motivated blocking of WikiLeaks, PayPal made it crystal clear a long time ago that they are not exactly an equal-opportunity service provider. We can’t be surprised when they make life difficult. But we also don’t have to be ok with it.
And, this just in, we’re not.
Here’s the 30-second background for anyone who missed it: in September, Paypal blocked the accounts for the Kopimist Church of Idaho over the Kopimists’ connection to TUEBL. Despite attempts to resolve things peaceably – starting with asking (in vain!) about exactly what triggered the block – PayPal has proved to be uninterested in finding a solution.
This is a problem.
Firsty, this is legal cowardice: PayPal is acting as judge, jury, and executioner over, not only a site, but an entire organization, because it is uncomfortable with a site’s content. Even if it were alright to cut off an entire organization for one outside site that it supports (hint: it’s not), there’s still the problem of that site itself not having done anything to get cut off in the first place. TUEBL is entirely DMCA compliant with a takedown process far more liberal than even Google or YouTube.
Secondly this is a denial of services based on ideological differences. Specifically, religious differences. And in case you were born yesterday or are from one of those (*shudder*) Not-America places, we take those differences kinda seriously around here. Had PayPal’s blockade held some legal water, it might be easier to overlook this particular problem. But with no valid legal concerns whatsoever, PayPal makes it clear their actions are completely ideological.
That’s not okay.
But, alright. We get it.
A lot of people can’t conceive of a religion that doesn’t involve dressing up in funny hats and weird robes. Or at least lighting some candles. A lot of people can’t conceive of a spiritual system where the sacred is not some external supernatural force, but rather something highly visible and relatable: the ubiquitous power of everyday people sharing information.
Yeah, it’s weird.
But Annie Edison was right: Everyone’s faith is weird. Is it really so much weirder to have seeds & peers instead of robes & candles? So, without weirdness as an appropriate measure of who gets to freedom of religion, what exactly is the extent of the First Amendment?
Of course, there is grey area. There are limitations on freedom. We recognize that the freedom of speech doesn’t extend to harassment. We recognize that freedom of the press doesn’t extend to libel. We recognize that freedom of assembly doesn’t extend to vandalism and mob violence. We recognize that freedom of religion doesn’t extend to human sacrifice. But the exceptions to the First Amendment all concern illegal actions, not individual’s ideologies. By and large, in the United States, individuals are free to believe what they want and practice those beliefs as they see fit.
So have we found the extent of the First Amendment?
Is it not just illegal actions that are excluded now, but disagreeable beliefs? And if that’s the case, then who gets to decide what is disagreeable? Do the entertainment industries get to decide what is and isn’t an appropriate belief system?
That seems to be exactly the authority that PayPal is deferring to in their decision to block the Kopimists. Without any illegal actions, they are drawing a purely belief-based line in the sand. And that line, in this case, is drawn by the copyright industry distaste for a perfectly legal site.
These industries are already fighting to put limits on our rights to privacy and communication. Are we really going to let them decide the limits on our beliefs too? Really?
PayPal seems to be okay with it.